Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002

Author: Joint Intelligence Committee

Show Summary

Part 3: Iraq Under Saddam Hussein


1. The Republic of Iraq is bounded by Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Syria and the Persian Gulf. Its population of around 23 million is ethnically and religiously diverse. Approximately 77% are Arabs. Sunni Muslims form around 17% of the Arab population and dominate the government. About 60% of Iraqis are Shias and 20% are Kurds. The remaining 3% of the population consists of Assyrians, Turkomans, Armenians, Christians and Yazidis.

Saddam Hussein’s rise to power

Saddam Hussein was born in 1937 in the Tikrit district, north of Baghdad. In 1957 he joined the Ba’ath Party. After taking part in a failed attempt to assassinate the Iraqi President, Abdul Karim Qasim, Saddam escaped, first to Syria and then to Egypt. In his absence he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

Saddam returned to Baghdad in 1963 when the Ba’ath Party came to power. He went into hiding after the Ba’ath fell from power later that year. He was captured and imprisoned, but in 1967 escaped and took over responsibility for Ba’ath security. Saddam set about imposing his will on the Party and establishing himself at the centre of power.

The Ba’ath Party returned to power in 1968. In 1969 Saddam became Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Deputy to the President, and Deputy Secretary-General of the Regional Command of the Ba’ath. In 1970 he joined the Party’s National Command and in 1977 was elected Assistant Secretary General. In July 1979, he took over the Presidency of Iraq. Within days, five fellow members of the Revolutionary Command Council were accused of involvement in a coup attempt. They and 17 others were summarily executed.

2. Public life in Iraq is nominally dominated by the Ba’ath Party. But all real authority rests with Saddam Hussein and his immediate circle. Saddam’s family, tribe and a small number of associates remain his most loyal supporters. He uses them to convey his orders, including to members of the government.

3. Saddam Hussein uses patronage and violence to motivate his supporters and to control or eliminate opposition. Potential rewards include social status, money and better access to goods. Saddam’s extensive security apparatus and Ba’ath Party network provides oversight of Iraqi society, with informants in social, government and military organisations. Saddam practises torture, execution and other forms of coercion against his enemies, real or suspected. His targets are not only those who have offended him, but also their families, friends or colleagues.

The Iraqi Ba’ath Party

The Ba’ath Party is the only legal political party in Iraq. It pervades all aspects of Iraqi life. Membership, around 700,000, is necessary for self advancement and confers benefits from the regime.

4. Saddam acts to ensure that there are no other centres of power in Iraq. He has crushed parties and ethnic groups which might try to assert themselves, such as the communists and the Kurds. Members of the opposition abroad have been the targets of assassination attempts conducted by Iraqi security services.

Saddam Hussein’s security apparatus

Saddam relies on a long list of security organisations with overlapping responsibilities. The main ones are:

•The Special Security Organisation oversees Saddam’s security and monitors the loyalty of other security services. Its recruits are predominantly from Tikrit.•The Special Republican Guard is equipped with the best available military equipment. Its members are selected on the basis of loyalty to the regime.•The Directorate of General Security is primarily responsible for countering threats from the civilian population.•The Directorate of General Intelligence monitors and suppresses dissident activities at home and abroad.•The Directorate of Military Intelligence’s role includes the investigation of military personnel.•The Saddam Fidayeen, under the control of Udayy Hussein, has been used to deal with civil disturbances.

5. Army officers are an important part of the government’s network of informers. Suspicion that officers have ambitions other than the service of the President leads to immediate execution. It is routine for Saddam to take pre-emptive action against those who he believes might conspire against him.

Internal Repression - the Kurds and the Shias

6. Saddam has pursued a long-term programme of persecution of the Iraqi Kurds, including the use of chemical weapons. During the Iran/Iraq war, Saddam appointed his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, as his deputy in the north. In 1987-88, al-Majid led the "Anfal" campaign of attacks on Kurdish villages. Amnesty International estimates that more than 100,000 Kurds were killed or disappeared during this period.

Repression and control: some examples•A campaign of mass arrests and killing of Shia activists led to the execution of the Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr and his sister in April 1980.•In 1983, 80 members of another leading Shia family were arrested. Six of them, all religious leaders, were executed.•A massive chemical weapons attack on Kurds in Halabja town in March 1988, killing 5000 and injuring 10,000 more.•A large number of officers from the Jabbur tribe were executed in the early 1990s for the alleged disloyalty of a few of them.

7. After the Gulf War in 1991 Kurds in the north of Iraq rose up against Baghdad’s rule. In response the Iraqi regime killed or imprisoned thousands, prompting a humanitarian crisis. Over a million Kurds fled into the mountains and tried to escape Iraq.

8. Persecution of Iraq’s Kurds continues, although the protection provided by the northern No-Fly Zone has helped to curb the worst excesses. But outside this zone, the Baghdad regime has continued a policy of persecution and intimidation.

9. The regime has used chemical weapons against the Kurds, most notably in an attack on the town of Halabja in 1988. The implicit threat of the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds and others is an important part of Saddam’s attempt to keep the civilian population under control.

10. The regime has tried to displace the traditional Kurdish and Turkoman populations of the areas under its control, primarily in order to weaken Kurdish claims to the oil-rich area around the northern city of Kirkuk. Kurds and other non-Arabs are forcibly ejected to the three northern Iraqi governorates - Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaimaniyah - which are under de facto Kurdish control. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) Special Rapporteur for Iraq, 94,000 individuals have been expelled since 1991. Agricultural land owned by Kurds has been confiscated and redistributed to Iraqi Arabs. Arabs from southern Iraq have been offered incentives to move into the Kirkuk area.

11. After the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah in Iran, Saddam intensified a campaign against the Shia Muslim majority of Iraq, fearing that they might be encouraged by the new Shia regime in Iran.

12. In the wake of the Gulf War, riots broke out in the southern city of Basra on 1 March 1991, spreading quickly to other cities in Shia-dominated southern Iraq. The regime responded by killing thousands. Many Shia tried to escape to Iran and Saudi Arabia.

13. Some of the Shia hostile to the regime sought refuge in the marshland of southern Iraq. In order to subjugate the area, Saddam embarked on a large-scale programme to drain the marshes to allow Iraqi ground forces to eliminate all opposition there. The rural population of the area fled or were forced to move to southern cities or across the border into Iran.

Saddam Hussein’s Wars

14. As well as ensuring his absolute control inside Iraq, Saddam has tried to make Iraq the dominant power of the region. In pursuit of these objectives he has led Iraq into two wars of aggression against neighbours, the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait.

15. With the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979, relations between Iran and Iraq deteriorated sharply. In September 1980 Saddam renounced a border treaty he had agreed with Iran in 1975 ceding half of the Shatt al-Arab waterway to Iran. Shortly thereafter, Saddam launched a large-scale invasion of Iran. He believed that he could take advantage of the state of weakness, isolation and disorganisation he perceived in post-revolutionary Iran. He aimed to seize territory, including that ceded to Iran a few years earlier, and to assert Iraq’s position as a leader of the Arab world. Saddam expected it to be a short, sharp campaign. But the conflict lasted for eight years. Iraq fired over 500 ballistic missiles at Iranian targets, including major cities.

Opposition to Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war

During the war Saddam’s security apparatus ensured any internal dissent or opposition was quickly eliminated. In 1982 he quickly purged a group within Iraq’s ruling clique which suggested that the war might be brought to an end more quickly if Saddam stood down.

16. It is estimated that the Iran/Iraq war cost the two sides a million casualties. Iraq used chemical weapons extensively from 1984. Some twenty thousand Iranians were killed by mustard gas, and the nerve agents tabun and sarin, all of which Iraq still possesses. The UN Security Council considered the report prepared by a team of three specialists appointed by the UN Secretary General in March 1986, following which the President made a statement condemning Iraqi use of chemical weapons. This marked the first time a country had been named for violating the 1925 Geneva Convention banning the use of chemical weapons.

17. The cost of the war ran into hundreds of billions of dollars for both sides. Iraq gained nothing. After the war ended, Saddam resumed his previous pursuit of primacy in the Gulf. His policies involved spending huge sums of money on new military equipment. But Iraq was burdened by debt incurred during the war and the price of oil, Iraq’s only major export, was low.

18. By 1990 Iraq’s financial problems were severe. Saddam looked at ways to press the oil-producing states of the Gulf to force up the price of crude oil by limiting production and waive the $40 billion that they had loaned Iraq during its war with Iran. Kuwait had made some concessions over production ceilings. But Saddam blamed Kuwait for over production. When his threats and blandishments failed, Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990. He believed that occupying Kuwait could prove profitable.

Abuses by Iraqi forces in Kuwait•Robbery and rape of Kuwaitis and expatriates.•Summary executions.•People dragged from their homes and held in improvised detention centres.•Amnesty International has listed 38 methods of torture used by the Iraqi occupiers. These included beatings, breaking of limbs, extracting finger and toenails, inserting bottle necks into the rectum, and subjecting detainees to mock executions.•Kuwaiti civilians arrested for "crimes" such as wearing beards.

19. Saddam also sought to justify the conquest of Kuwait on other grounds. Like other Iraqi leaders before him, he claimed that, as Kuwait’s rulers had come under the jurisdiction of the governors of Basra in the time of the Ottoman Empire, Kuwait should belong to Iraq.

20. During its occupation of Kuwait, Iraq denied access to the Red Cross, which has a mandate to provide protection and assistance to civilians affected by international armed conflict. The death penalty was imposed for relatively minor "crimes" such as looting and hoarding food.

21. In an attempt to deter military action to expel it from Kuwait, the Iraqi regime took hostage several hundred foreign nationals (including children) in Iraq and Kuwait, and prevented thousands more from leaving, in direct contravention of international humanitarian law. Hostages were held as human shields at a number of strategic military and civilian sites.

22. At the end of the Gulf War, the Iraqi army fleeing Kuwait set fire to over 1,160 Kuwaiti oil wells, with serious environmental consequences.

23. More than 600 Kuwaiti and other prisoners of war and missing persons are still unaccounted for. Iraq refuses to comply with its UN obligation to account for the missing. It has provided sufficient information to close only three case-files.

Abuse of human rights

24. This section draws on reports of human rights abuses from authoritative international organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

25. Human rights abuses continue within Iraq. People continue to be arrested and detained on suspicion of political or religious activities, or often because they are related to members of the opposition. Executions are carried out without due process of law. Relatives are often prevented from burying the victims in accordance with Islamic practice. Thousands of prisoners have been executed.

Human rights: abuses under Saddam•4000 prisoners were executed at Abu Ghraib Prison in 1984.•3000 prisoners were executed at the Mahjar Prison between 1993 and 1998.•About 2500 prisoners were executed between 1997 and 1999 in a "prison cleansing" campaign.•122 male prisoners were executed at Abu Ghraib prison in February/ March 2000. A further 23 political prisoners were executed there in October 2001.•In October 2000, dozens of women accused of prostitution were beheaded without any judicial process. Some were accused for political reasons.•Women prisoners at Mahjar are routinely raped by their guards.•Methods of torture used in Iraqi jails include using electric drills to mutilate hands, pulling out fingernails, knife cuts, sexual attacks and ’official rape’.•Prisoners at the Qurtiyya Prison in Baghdad and elsewhere are kept in metal boxes the size of tea chests. If they do not confess they are left to die.

26. Saddam has issued a series of decrees establishing severe penalties for criminal offences. These include amputation, branding, cutting off ears, and other forms of mutilation. Anyone found guilty of slandering the President has their tongue removed.

Human Rights - mistreatment in Abu Ghraib Prison

Abdallah, a member of the Ba’ath Party whose loyalty became suspect was imprisoned for four years at Abu Ghraib in the 1980s. On the second day of his imprisonment, the men were forced to walk between two rows of five guards each to receive their containers of food. While walking to get the food, they were beaten by the guards with plastic telephone cables. They had to return to their cells the same way, so that a walk to get breakfast resulted in twenty lashes. According to Abdallah, "It wasn’t that bad going to get the food, but coming back the food was spilled when we were beaten." The same procedure was used when the men went to the bathroom. On the third day, the torture continued. "We were removed from our cells and beaten with plastic pipes. This surprised us, because we were asked no question. Possibly it was being done to break our morale", Abdallah speculated. The torture escalated to sixteen sessions daily. The treatment was organised and systematic. Abdallah was held alone in a 3x2-meter room that opened onto a corridor. "We were allowed to go to the toilet three times a day, then they reduced the toilet to once a day for only one minute. I went for four years without a shower or a wash", Abdallah said. He also learned to cope with the deprivation and the hunger that accompanied his detention: "I taught myself to drink a minimum amount of water because there was no placed to urinate. They used wooden sticks to beat us and sometimes the sticks would break. I found a piece of a stick, covered with blood, and managed to bring it back to my room. I ate it for three days. A person who is hungry can eat anything. Pieces of our bodies started falling off from the beatings and our skin was so dry that it began to fall off. I ate pieces of my own body. "No one, not Pushkin, not Mahfouz, can describe what happened to us. It is impossible to describe what living this day to day was like. I was totally naked the entire time. Half of the original groups [of about thirty men] died. It was a slow type of continuous physical and psychological torture. Sometimes, it seemed that orders came to kill one of us, and he would be beaten to death". (Source: Human Rights Watch)

Saddam Hussein’s family

27. Saddam’s son Udayy maintained a private torture chamber known as the Red Room in a building on the banks of the Tigris disguised as an electricity installation. He ordered the Iraq football team to be caned on the soles of the feet for losing a World Cup match. He created a militia in 1994 which has used swords to execute victims outside their own homes. He has personally executed dissidents, for instance in the Shia uprising at Basra which followed the Gulf War.

28. Members of Saddam’s family are also subject to persecution. A cousin of Saddam called Ala Abd Al-Qadir Al-Majid fled to Jordan from Iraq, citing disagreements with the regime over business matters. He returned to Iraq after the Iraqi Ambassador in Jordan declared publicly that his life was not in danger. He was met at the border by Tahir Habbush, Head of the Directorate of General Intelligence (the Mukhabarat), and taken to a farm owned by ’Ali Hasan Al-Majid. At the farm ’Ala was tied to a tree and executed by members of his immediate family who, following orders from Saddam, took it in turns to shoot him.

29. Some 40 of Saddam’s relatives, including women and children, have been killed. His sons-in-law Hussein Kamel and Saddam had defected in 1995 and returned to Iraq from Jordan after the government had announced amnesties for them. They were executed in February 1996.

Human Rights - individual testimony

In December 1996, a Kurdish businessman from Baghdad was arrested outside his house by plainclothes security men. Initially his family did not know his whereabouts and went from one police station to another inquiring about him. Then they found out that he was being held in the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Baghdad. The family was not allowed to visit him. Eleven months later the family was told by the authorities that he had been executed and that they should go and collect his body. His body bore evident signs of torture. His eyes were gouged out and the empty eye sockets filled with paper. His right wrist and left leg were broken. The family was not given any reason for his arrest and subsequent execution. However, they suspected that he was executed because of his friendship with a retired army general who had links with the Iraqi opposition outside the country and who was arrested just before his arrest and also executed. (Source: Amnesty International)

Human Rights - individual testimony

"...I saw a friend of mine, al-Shaikh Nasser Taresh al-Sa’idi, naked. He was handcuffed and a piece of wood was placed between his elbows and his knees. Two ends of the wood were placed on two high chairs and al-Shaikh Nasser was being suspended like a chicken. This method of torture is known as al-Khaygania (a reference to a former security director known as al-Khaygani). An electric wire was attached to al-Shaikh Nasser’s penis and another one attached to one of his toes. He was asked if he could identify me and he said "this is al-Shaikh Yahya". They took me to another room and then after about 10 minutes they stripped me of my clothes and a security officer said "the person you saw has confessed against you". He said to me "You followers of [Ayatollah] al-Sadr have carried out acts harmful to the security of the country and have been distributing anti-government statements coming from abroad". He asked if I have any contact with an Iraqi religious scholar based in Iran who has been signing these statements. I said "I do not have any contacts with him"... I was then left suspended in the same manner as al-Shaikh al-Sa’idi. My face was looking upward. They attached an electric wire on my penis and the other end of the wire is attached to an electric motor. One security man was hitting my feet with a cable. Electric shocks were applied every few minutes and were increased. I must have been suspended for more than an hour. I lost consciousness. They took me to another room and made me walk even though my feet were swollen from beating... They repeated this method a few times." (Source: Amnesty International, testimony from an Iraqi theology student from Saddam City)


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Chicago: Joint Intelligence Committee, "Part 3: Iraq Under Saddam Hussein," Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002 in Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002 (London, United Kingdom: 10 Downing Street, 24 September 2002), Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: Committee, Joint Intelligence. "Part 3: Iraq Under Saddam Hussein." Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002, in Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002, London, United Kingdom, 10 Downing Street, 24 September 2002, Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Committee, JI, 'Part 3: Iraq Under Saddam Hussein' in Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002. cited in 24 September 2002, Iraq’s Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction, 24 September 2002, 10 Downing Street, London, United Kingdom. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from